Jun 032011

At the Grange last evening Nicole Foss of the Automatic Earth left us all a bit breathless with her connecting of the dots of energy and economics with a short side trip to Fukishima and the disaster that is affecting Japan. Energy drives economics and we are running perilously short of cheap energy. This will move our economic situation toward collapse as the bubbles of housing and commodities and the heavy weight of debt take money out of the system and cause it to seize up.

Trying to put all this information (a 90 minute talk followed by another 90 minutes of Q and A) is almost more than even a well-informed human can process. For virtually all of us the Great Depression is of the history books. We’ve heard the stories but with the prosperity of the last seventy years, prosperity lubricated with cheap energy, the tales Great Depression made little impact. It’s hard for us to conceive of wide-spread shortages, lack of purchasing power, massive unemployment, systemic bank failures and dried up credit. For me and even more so for the following generations our attitude was more in line with Mastercard’s “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.”

What we are facing is similar to Colony Collapse Disorder, the affliction that faces the honey bee. Last week three of us new beekeepers on the island got a demonstration of how quickly bad things can happen. That is, how quickly bad things seem to happen because there is often a slow prelude to a crisis but then we reach a tipping point and we see collapse.

On May 26 I did my first close inspection of the hive lifting up the top bars to check the comb and see what was going on. Everything looked good. Lots of nice comb. Tons of bees.

Healthy looking comb

The next day was cold and rainy. Bad bee weather. I noted there wasn’t much, if any flying. Then following day there was no flying at all and when we opened the hive to look we found a huge pile of dead bees, perhaps more than half the population of the hive.

Cleaning dead bees from the hive

The remaining bees were lethargic and inactive. Now here’s the amazing thing: we quickly checked the other two hives which are a mile and a half and two miles away and discovered half the bees in those hives were dead as well. Collapsed on the same day. All of us are grossly inexpert but we decided to start feeding the bees again (we had been feeding earlier but they had quit taking the feed during the big leaf maple nectar flow). Clearly they were starving.

Now the hives are on life support. We wonder if we have a critical mass of bees who are able to get the job done. We hope that we have the right demographic as the bee’s life cycle is short and a hive needs a mixture of age groups to function properly.

The bees are flying again and seem busy in the hive. But life will not be as easy for them with their resources so depleted. They are also kind of angry and very aggressive when we open the hive each evening to change the sugar water. Who can blame them? Collapse is upsetting.

The experience with the bees helps me to process the information that Nicole dropped on us. It wasn’t exactly news to me as I’ve been reading her site and others like it for the last many years. She is instrumental in the decisions we’ve made during that time period: moving to Lummi Island to hive with a strong community, getting out of debt, starting a garden, storing some food, collecting rainwater, relearning old skills, accumulating tools and other necessities and trying to convince others to do the same.

There was a nice sized group assembled to hear Ms Foss. Perhaps eighty people. I will estimate that thirty of them were over from Bellingham. Transition Whatcom folks. It would have been helpful if there had been thirty more from the island to hear this message because I suspect, for the most part, that Nicole was preaching to the choir. However, we need a well-informed choir to provide some leadership as we get nearer to collapse.


  14 Responses to “Collapse”

  1. I agree with your take on Stoneleigh’s talk last night, especially the last paragraph. As you know, I suspected the mix would be exactly what it was. Where were the young people with families, the self employed, the business owners…the people that are most likely to be effected by the depression we’re in for years to come?

    As you know, I also agree with Nicole in regards to the addition of a financial component to the Transition strategy. She can obviously read a chart, and regularly refers to fibonacci levels, Elliott Wave, and other charting methods in her various articles, as well as in her talk last night. She talked about the markets being a harbinger of the future. How do you follow the markets?….by using technical analysis aka reading a chart. One needs to follow the bond markets, Forex, and lastly the stock market, and be able to see what the big money is doing. Charts represent the footprints big money makes, based on price, time and data that cannot be spun by some MSM mouthpiece, or the WSJ. Without some idea of where things are going on a macro level, and then using that knowledge to front run the future, you will wind up with an island of people more concerned with economic survival than growing food or raising bees. I suspect we’re there already in many cases. There is rent to pay, mortgages to pay, taxes to pay (more coming), gas to buy (regardless of price people will need to get to work somehow), bus fare, ferry fares, kids to school and feed, iphones and ipads to keep working, food to buy, etc, etc. This is where cash is king, but one must first have the cash and the cash flow. If one’s 401K, IRA, or whatever is looted and the monetary cupboard is bare, you have a dysfunctional community living on a shoestring, who’s only interest is how to obtain money, and survival. Retirees are not immune to this downturn. It is necessary for people to become aware of what their money is doing in pension plans, 401Ks, IRAs, etc, etc….it’s your money, take care of it…..as Nicole pointed out last night, volatility will reign supreme in the years ahead. There will be no prisoners. So does anybody know what the market is telling you now?

  2. Well, this morning, the stock market (as much as it can be believed with all the manipulation that goes on) seems to be telling us that national expectations of growth that have always stoked national aspirations are over. We may well be already in a Japan like recession that moves us down and sideways for decades.

  3. I suggest reading this piece by Stoneleigh. You will find references to the markets, charts, patterns, levels, fibonacci, Elliott Wave, etc. Prechter’s site is good, but there are others. I’m still in touch with Prechters’s ex-partner, who told me in 2002 that gold will go to 1000, the DOW to 4K, and we’ll enter a depression. Technical analysis of the markets is now a necessity in this world in order to survive the volatility, just as much as growing food or electric cars.


    Riddle me this….what will happen if the US dollar stops being the reserve currency of the world? What will happen if oil stops being traded in the US dollar, the now reigning petrodollar? Perhaps somebody asked Nicole these questions last night.

  4. Could someone provide bulletpoints of Stoneleigh’s principal takeaways? And perhaps her suggestions for how to prepare oneself.

  5. Dave,

    The markets have been telling us this since Feb when yields topped and the miners topped in December, and it was quite obvious when the Bernank pulled QE2 out of the hat in August, preventing another meltdown. Without the Fed POMO pumping, we would be at Dow 4K right now and the depression would be quite obvious. The stock market is the casino, the Bond and Forex markets rule. Even manipulation cannot overcome long wave cycles. My emphasis is not on those that are retired and sitting pretty….we’re dead men walking….I’m talking about the young people that are hopefully going to inherit this island. We need to find a way to reach them, and soon.

  6. If you missed the presentation, or just want to have it on hand to review or pass on, I suggest buying ” A Century of Challenges” in file form, or DVD, directly from The Automatic Earth. Just go to the link and the offer is in the upper right corner. I’ve had it on file for months now, and have reviewed it twice, along with all the other pieces, interviews, etc. Good stuff…..


  7. Doom is always a hard sell.

  8. Sorry to hear about the bees, Randy.

    As for the rest — I liked Foss’s reminder that we need to get (and work) together in the real world.

    One thing I’d like to see, but have *no* idea how to develop, is an equipment co-op for things like tractors, tillers, wood-splitters, etc — expensive items that get relatively little use and would be better shared. I know that some folks (I’ll let them identify themselves if they wish) own a truck in common. Maybe they’ll have practical ideas?


  9. I think Wynne’s idea is a great one, but everyone is familiar with the neighbor who has never bought or serviced anything, but has a garage full of everybody elses stuff, sometime broken at that.
    The share thing most always ends up in hard feelings by some.
    There has to be a way to buy shares in a coop that deal with the loaning and returning of items, and keeps things services or replaced when they wear out (everything does), without playing the finger pointing whisper game.
    That said, I’m trying to see if we can get a barter service up an running on the fly and for cheap.

  10. Me and Wm. Shakespeare agree with you Mike!

    Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
    For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
    And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

    Hamlet Act 1, scene 3

    Now if I could just get past:

    Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
    And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
    No more; and by a sleep to say we end
    The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
    That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
    Devoutly to be wish’d.

    Hamlet Act 3, scene 1

  11. Wynne,
    About a year ago I was asking around the island looking for anyone interested in forming a co-op to buy a tractor. Not finding any interest, I bought one myself. I also recently I bought a work truck that gets infrequent use. It would make much more sense to me to share these resources and pay only a fraction of the cost. However, Ed, Mike and William also bring up good points of the difficulties humans encounter when sharing. Shall we avoid all possibilities of conflict and keep our things and our lives to ourselves? For me, I think not. I am game on! There is a danger in rural island living of becoming too recluse, so I am all for increasing interaction even if it is messy.

    But it seems it might be a good solution to have these sharing relationships evolve within a small group of people that have already developed a trusting relationship outside of the cooperative agreement. To just open it up to anyone would require complicated rules, accounting, co-op bylaws, etc. Which might work here on the island, but it would take some effort to set up and run. If someone is interested, possibly they could make a small income by managing a co-op with things like a tractor, shovels, ladders, and the like.

    In the event of a colony collapse (whether global, national, regional, economic, biological, or whatever) I would most certainly make my resources available to my neighbors in need. If it meant tilling up someones yard so they could grow vegetables, or mowing the community orchard in order to keep people from going hungry, I think we would see many others come together and make their resources available. But it is good to have discussions like this to know where we stand as a local community. I have also thought that if a ferry ended up going to Bellingham or Fairhaven, I would be interested in buying to a co-op for an electric plug-in vehicle (like the Chevy Volt) stored at the ferry landing for short errands in town. Didn’t the grange fill this role in times past? Didn’t it serve as the original Farmers co-op?

  12. To extend the bee/human analogy a little further, a new study shows that bees are not so different then humans when given clues that their colony is in danger. They see the glass as half empty and decide to not extend their mouthparts to feed.


    Possibly Randy’s bees and the other island bees were discouraged by the bad weather and were affected by S.A.D. Maybe they assessed declining state of their environment and decided that the collapse of their society was imminent, cleaned out their bank accounts and stopped going outside.

    I sure hope we don’t end up in a pile at the bottom of our houses because we were shaken up by some unstable economic numbers in the news.

  13. […] in June I wrote about the collapse of my new hive of bees.  This traumatic event caused me to obsess about the welfare of the remaining bees in the […]

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